Top 10 surprises of the first half, and can they keep it up?
The halfway point of the season is always a good time to take a second to contemplate on what we’ve witnessed so far this season. Most of it is routine. But there are always surprises. This year has been chock full of them.
But the most important aspect isn’t figuring out who was the biggest first-half surprise. It’s whether the player can keep up the scoring pace that made him such a surprise in the first place. Below are the top 10 surprises so far and whether their second half can match the first 40 games.
10. Phil Kessel
After a couple of subpar seasons, many fantasy general managers lost faith in Kessel. But he’s been his own self this season. Kessel has 41 points in 42 games and is on pace for 80 points. And he amazingly has 18 power play points already (tied for third most in the league). The only real concern for Kessel is the fact his shot total is down (he’s on pace for 232 shots: that would be by far his lowest since the lockout shortened season of 2012-13). But he is playing regularly with Evgeni Malkin and is playing almost 70 per cent of the Penguins’ power play ice time so he should have no trouble keeping up this pace.
9. Bo Horvat
Horvat is quickly becoming a must own in fantasy hockey. The only Canuck that is fantasy relevant, Horvat started the season slow with just four points in his first 12 games. He has 26 points in 34 games since. That’s a 63-point pace over 82 games. Imagine what he could do with more ice time and some time on the top power play unit. He’s only one Henrik Sedin injury away from getting that ice time.
No one expected Marchand to be one of the league’s elite fantasy producers. But here we are. He’s on pace for 77 points. He’s the first player since 2013-14 to have two five-point games in the same season. He has points in 31 of Boston’s 46 games. And he’s a shoo-in to keep this up. He’s getting lots of ice time for someone not on the top power play unit. His 12.7 per cent shooting percentage is the lowest of his career. And he’s been getting points while playing with the Patrice Bergeron (snake bitten most of the season) and Davis Pastrnak (one goal in the last 16 games).
7. Conor Sheary
Sheary first came onto the radar for many fantasy general managers during Pittsburgh’s Stanley Cup victory last year. Sheary has been quietly putting up points this year and has 11 goals and 25 points in 35 games. That puts him on pace for 24 goals and 54 points. No one expected that. It helps that his most frequent line mate is Sidney Crosby. He’s even getting a little bit of power play time. Whether he can keep this up depends on whether he continues to play with the best player in the world.
6. Thomas Vanek
Vanek’s 29 points may not seem as great as other players, until you remember he missed 10 games due to injury. He has a point in 22 of 32 games so far and has 14 points in his last 12 games. He’ll probably start to decline as he’s not getting a lot of ice time (just 15 minutes per game). But that depends on if he stays with Detroit. He’s a good candidate to be dealt at the deadline. Where he ends up will impact how he finishes the season.
Bobrovsky leads the league with 26 wins, and is top five in goals against average and save percentage. He’s only six wins off his career high and most of his other numbers are the best they’ve been since 2012-13. Columbus seems to be the real deal this year and that will benefit Bobrovsky. There’s only two things working against him: he has yet to have his annual injury, and his workload. He’s on pace for 68 games. That could decrease quite a bit if the Blue Jackets make the playoffs easily and the coach chooses to rest him for the playoffs.
4. Sam Gagner
Truthfully, this list could have been almost entirely Blue Jackets. But I focused on Gagner because he’s been the biggest offensive surprise on the Blue Jackets squad. Gagner has 30 points and is on pace for 59, thanks to being on the top power play unit. Gagner never hit the 50-point mark in his career and has only topped 40 once since 2011-12. But the second half doesn’t look for Gagner to keep this up. He’s already started regressing with zero points in his last four games, his shooting percentage is quite a bit higher than his career high, and he’s only averaging 13:33 minutes a game.
3. Peter Budaj
Given up in pretty much every fantasy pool out there, Budaj has exceeded everyone’s expectations. He’s already won 20 games this year. That ties his second-highest ever for a season and we’re only halfway through. With word coming out last month that Quick won’t be back until March, Budaj will easily get to 30 wins. L.A. is good enough that Budaj will hit that mark.
2. Cam Ward
Ward is the perfect example why no player can ever be left for fantasy dead. Just compare these four goalies:
Goalie A: 21 wins, .921 SV %, 2.34 GAA, 2 shutouts
Goalie B: 18 wins, .907 SV %, 2.72 GAA, 1 shutout
Goalie C: 12 wins, .909 SV %, 2.73 GAA, 2 shutouts
Goalie D: 18 wins, .915 SV %, 2.34 GAA, 2 shutouts
The first three are Carey Price, Henrik Lundqvist and Cory Schneider. Ward is Goalie D. He’s been excellent this year and has easily taken the crease as Carolina’s number one goalie. He was undrafted in 75 per cent of Yahoo leagues but is putting up numbers comparable to goalies taken in the first two rounds. He’ll be able to keep up this groove as Carolina doesn’t have a suitable backup to steal starts if Ward struggles.
1. Eric Staal
Staal’s stock had dropped tremendously before the season began. Most fantasy guides had him finishing anywhere from 39 to 54 points. Staal has already hit the 39-point mark in 41 games (a 77-point pace). Last year he had 39 points in 83 games. He probably won’t be able to keep up this pace for another 41 games but 65 to 70 is easily within range.
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